I've already learned the theory, technique and notation as it applies to my primary instrument (guitar). I'd like to pick up a second instrument (viola), but I need to find exercises and etudes that don't start from the baby basics. I don't need to read about what a scale is, but I need some scales. I don't want to play Hot Cross Buns, I want to play some simplified Mozart, maybe working up to Bach towards the end.

So how can I wade through the plethora of material available and find just the essentials to apply my theory and musicality my new instrument?

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    But there is this meta post that received a lot of support. Jan 23, 2013 at 5:21
  • I'm somewhat on the fence. I think the thing that distinguished the left-hand question was the particular problem involved. Learning a new instrument is very broad and there ought to be many books/systems that would be useful to you. Looking to have one picked out of the crowd is exactly a shopping rec, yes?
    – user28
    Jan 23, 2013 at 18:04
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    You could try All for Strings (Anderson/Frost). My violinist spouse teaches from the beginner violin book which has 184 pieces that are all very short and tend to alternate between exercise-like and musically interesting. The viola book is probably similar. Jan 24, 2013 at 19:27
  • @MatthewRead I confess I'm stumped by your argument. I want to disagree and plead that the Repertoire tag makes it an exception. But I can't come up with any persuasive arguments for it. Is it just the targeting that's too broad? We don't want one for every instrument? Jan 24, 2013 at 19:35
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    I think a narrower scope drags it more from recs into problem solving. Here so far you have vague (but perfectly fine) advice in one answer and a very short recommendation. I can't imagine that either of these is the ideal answer. Similar to the left-hand question is this hand-independence question and the accepted answer talks about a resource that is specifically designed to address the problem! You are unlikely to get such focused, helpful answers without a focused and apparent "problem".
    – user28
    Jan 24, 2013 at 20:13

4 Answers 4


When learning a new instrument, it is important to start from the beginning - even if you know the theory stuff. The reason for this is that even though you may know how to read (how is your alto clef reading?) you still need to develop the technique. Playing the "baby" material is essential for developing a proper pedagogical foundation with your new instrument.

For string instruments, the sound is all in the bow, and pretty much every introduction to string pedagogy will start you out playing whole notes on the open strings. Yes, it can be boring, but the goal here is to start developing solid bowing technique; familiarizing yourself with the instrument.

When I did my undergrad, I had to take pedagogy for all of the instruments, which meant reading from a lot of beginner books. What is nice about this is that the more often you do it, the more quickly you can go through a book because you're essentially just learning the kinesthetic technique.

After you have played a particular instrument for awhile (in your case, guitar,) practice can sort of "plateau" out where you've achieved a sufficient level of mastery of basics and now you're focusing on refining everything. Learning a new instrument from scratch can be very cathartic and almost zen in a way; re-establishing and further developing those strong foundational concepts.

Those books are also helpful for introducing you to the repertoire of the instrument as they often contain famous melodies from select pieces. Saying you don't want to play Hot Cross Buns is a little funny for a couple reasons:

1.) You chose viola. Most of the music you play will be inner accompaniment parts.

2.) You want to play Mozart. Most of the music you play will be inner accompaniment parts - quarter notes like Hot Cross Buns.

3.) Apart from that, you'll probably just find viola solos or orchestral passages that are beyond your technical facility.


  • Yes, it's boring, but developing technical facility is paramount. Regardless of what instrument you decide to pick up, you'll still have to go over all of the "easy" stuff if you want to develop a proper foundation and sound pleasing.

Hope that helps.

  • I used the alto clef to notate guitar music in the Open-F tuning (CFCFAC), so I've got some experience there. But have to concede the rest. Thanks. Jan 28, 2013 at 7:55
  • No problem - glad to help. I brought up the point about reading alto clef because guitarists traditionally read treble clef, and wasn't sure of your experience. Bonus points to you for reading alto clef! Jan 29, 2013 at 6:50
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    Yes, it's marvelous for that open-F tuning. The three anchoring C's symmetrically straddle the staff, and the ledger lines correspond directly to a scale lengthwise along the top string Sep 16, 2015 at 0:51
  • @luserdroog I will definitely keep that in mind if I ever have the chance to write a guitar piece with that tuning. :) Sep 16, 2015 at 4:12

You'll tend to find a lot of what you're looking for in standard introduction books, such as this one. I say a lot of, not all, because while they focus on techniques of progressive difficulty, as an accomplished musician on one instrument already you may well not find them musically interesting. At least not to start with.

If you want to plump for the increasingly popular Suzuki method, you'll find arguably more musically interesting pieces more quickly (there's some Bach and Handel in book 1), though you still won't be pulling these out of the hat straight away.

I'd honestly recommend perhaps lumping some "not musically interesting" pieces for the first few, say weeks (obviously this depends on how quickly you progress) and ensure that you use this time to build your technique up to a good level. Once you get to this stage, there's then a good repertoire of simple classical pieces you can begin to enjoy.


For you in particular, I highly recommend the Suzuki books for the following reasons:

  • It does not try to teach you how to read music
  • It's not just generic etudes; it has has a good variety of pieces from a variety of decent composers, especially as you go further up the volumes
  • And most importantly, you can view the full first volume here to see if you like it.

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    I played piano, harpsichord and organ for a very long time and picked up viola early last year. As this wasn't the first instrument,I progressed very fast throguh the method book I was using (Methode d'Alto, Henri Classens, edition Combre - it is a little old French method book. No cbildren's songs at all, but as there is no explanations on technique, you will need to do this with a teacher). The real problem for me is the bowing, and I don't think you can play the instrument without going through the biginner's phase because of it and also aquiring a proper posture can take a time. for something musical on the side, there are many books available. look at ABRSM exams page. They post exam pieces by level (with the name of the books they are from) and you will find they are quite helpful as a starting point for exploring suitable repatoir.

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